What have you been feeding yourself lately? I’m not talking about the food on your plate (although that’s important too) - I’m talking about your social media news feed. We rely on the internet to keep us connected during this time when we can’t be face to face, but what you read and see impacts how you see yourself and how you teach. Today we’re talking about social media and how it impacts your life and practice as a teacher. It was an important topic before COVID hit, and is even more so now. We are online like never before - not just to teach our students, but to communicate with one another, search for ideas, inspiration, shop - the virtual world has become a necessity while the physical world is not fully available or safe to us.
Before going any further, let me say there is a lot to gain from the ideas and connections we form online. The technologies, apps, and programs that we have at our fingertips today are making this season of life much more doable than had it occurred 10, 15 years ago. It's also improved our outreach as teachers and our ability to connect virtually with students. I share more about this in The Thrive Guide: Beginning a Teaching Career in Uncertain Times, which you can download here. But the volume of information we are consuming and the amount of time we are spending in isolation are cause for a pause. It’s how we are internalizing what we are reading and viewing, at what is for many of us the lowest point of our careers or lives, that we need to take a look at.
Social media is not only our place to connect, but where we go for ideas, curiosity, and boredom. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of viewing glossy feeds, stylized photos, and catchy quotes. The longer you scroll, the harder it is to separate it from reality.
I’ll share a personal experience from three years ago. I was on Instagram after a long day at school in the Spring - and we all know what are students are like around Spring Break. I was tired and feeling defeated - in several areas of my life. Then, I came across a quote on someone’s grid - I can even remember it was in black and white, in a very trendy font. It read, "If you’re not giving your students your best, don’t expect them to give you theirs."
It pierced my heart, because I was going through a difficult experience personally where I felt devoid of energy and unable to be the teacher I wanted to be for my students. I could not give my students my best. Reading that message, although not intended directly for me, made me feel even more hopeless and negligent as a teacher.
Now, in hindsight, I can see the fallacy of that quote, because as adults with many responsibilities and demands outside of teaching, there are many times when we can’t be our best - especially right now. And just because you can’t be your best teacher self doesn’t give your students a free pass to misbehave or complete their work to the best of their ability. We know that our students can’t always do their best because of what’s going on in their lives, either, it’s a two way street.
But back to how this relates to what you’re feeding yourself on social media. What you see in posts on Facebook and Instagram (or any other outlet you use, those are just the ones I’m familiar with) is not the whole picture of that person’s life, much less yours. You have to keep in mind these three things:
1. We’re all in different stages of our lives.
Our chapters may be similar in some instances, but they have different settings, plots, and characters - especially characters. Someone just starting out in their teaching career or just beginning life on their own is going to have a different perspective than someone who has been in the classroom a while and has experienced more of life. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, it’s just the truth. You don’t know what you don’t know. But before you take something you read or see to heart, remember that.
2. Many people, including teachers, use social media to connect with potential customers and clients.
Social media has changed the advertising and marketing game. And again, that’s not a bad thing either, because I am a big supporter of small businesses and run one myself! It’s a great way for people to get to know you and your platform or product. I mean, that’s probably how you found this podcast! But remember. you are a demographic that is being targeted for sales. When people want you to know, like, and trust them, they are going to “sell” the best version of themselves. You’re not likely to see the messy tables, wrinkled clothes, and dark circles because that doesn’t make the best advertisement.
3. You aren’t seeing that person’s entire story.
Even when people share things about their lives that aren’t so glamorous or aren’t so great, it’s often getting shared through a filter - literally. It looks better than what it really is, and there’s bound to be more there than what you see. In a way, that’s good - because I believe, even when you are trying to connect with people and be real, that certain elements of our lives need to be unapologetically closed off to others. Not every aspect of my life is for public consumption (sorry not sorry). But see it for what it is - highlight reels, filters, and poses. Even the feet up Fridays with the cute shoes. It’s feet up Friday because that’s cuter to look at than frazzled hair on a Friday afternoon, you know?
So are you ready to clean up what you’re feeding yourself on social media? The first step is to determine what is making you SICK - that’s an acronym, S-I-C-K. If the things on your social media diet are making you SICK, it’s time to unfollow, block (if you’ll still be tempted to look them up), or unsubscribe - even if it’s me that’s making you feel that way!
Let’s begin with the “S” in SICK - it stands for Sad.
Depression and anxiety are running rampant right now, and our executive function has been taxed to the max as this pandemic has played out. If scrolling through your news feed of other teacher’s brightly lit classrooms, engaged students, colorful commentary is making you feel even more blue than you already may be, you’ve got to do something about it. Don’t keep consuming things that make you sad - protect your mental health at all costs.
The “I” is for imitate.
There are many great ideas that I have gained from IG, Pinterest, and YouTube over the years. But you have to put those ideas in context of who you are as a person and teacher and who your students are and their needs. As I like to say, Pinterest isn’t Pedagogy! In fact, I remember the days of teaching where we didn’t have Pinterest to look through for ideas, we had to look within ourselves to come up with creative and different ways to reach our students. And that is still possible - you have good ideas all on your own with no prompting from the internet! If you feel that you have to be just like someone else, don’t. Your students are different, your teaching style is different. Your way of adapting your classroom environment to 2020 is unique to you. If you feel you just have to be someone else - it time to unfollow. Because we need you, just as you are!
On to “C” - Compare.
It goes along with imitate, but it’s a little different. There’s a saying that goes “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it’s no lie. We’ve all done it. We’ve scrolled and said “I’m not as accomplished as her, I never look like that at the end of the day, I don’t do those kind of activities with my students.” The end thought is always something to the effect of “she’s great and I’m not.” It’s a deep pit that we fall into with comparison, and the further you go, the harder it is to climb out. It goes back to that you don’t see that person’s entire life, entire story. And that person may very well be doing the same things after she posts - looking at other people’s feeds and thinking how she’s not enough! If what you are consuming has you pitting yourself against a filtered reality, it’s time to let comparison stop stealing from you.
And last, the “K” - Keep you from taking action.
Total defeat. Overwhelm. Hopelessness. I’m not talking about 2020, I’m talking about just feeling in complete despair over what you read and watch on social media. It’s the feeling that there is no use in even trying, you could never be like that or you are a failure before you even start. Just being in complete paralysis from all those that seem to be ahead of you. We can’t live that way. We can’t live in defeat or think our ideas or dreams are unattainable because of people who are great at editing photos and writing copy and ultimately selling themselves put themselves out their into the digital beyond (again not a bad thing, just see it for what it is). This year has brought enough despair and distress for several lifetimes. If your social media feed makes the words “never,” “impossible,” or “not me” creep into your heart, clean it up.
So that’s SICK: Sad, Imitate, Compare, Keep you from Taking Action. Now...
In contrast, let’s talk about what can make your social media feed WELL - another acronym. Connecting online is here to stay. I’m not here to knock it by any means, just think it shouldn’t control our self-esteem. So here’s what can stay in your feed with WELL:
“W” stands for Want to Take Action.
In contrast to what keeps you from taking action with SICK, we all need people who motivate us to be the best versions of ourselves. And there is a difference between motivation and imitation/comparison. At a time where we’ve lost our normal and every day seems to blur into the next, sources of initiative are a much needed boost. If it boosts your morale, makes you excited for the next day, or keeps you putting one foot in front of the other, by all means keep that on your feed!
The “E” is for empower.
This is very important, because even pre-pandemic, it was easy to feel as an educator that the big decisions are out of your control. However, you do have more control over your life and your classroom than you think. It just often takes bold, empowered people to help us see it for ourselves. A favorite saying I have come across is “When you start seeing what you’re worth, you stop giving people discounts” - meaning when we recognize how worthy we are of respect and happiness, you won’t permit others to do and say things that take that away from you. People that make you see your options and your value in the classroom and in your life are keepers.
The first “L” in WELL is for Look Forward To.
Do you always anticipate when someone is about to put out new content or scroll for a certain account because you’ve figured out they usually post on a certain day? I personally look forward to getting an email every Sunday night from one of my favorite bloggers and podcasters because of her encouraging, realistic perspectives on education. We all need things to look forward to and be excited about right now, when we can’t get out and engage in person.
And the second “L”? It stands for Like Yourself.
I’d go for love yourself, but that’s a tall order for a social media influencer to fill! People who make you feel good about yourself and make you smile are who we all need to aspire to be - if not online, then in real life. We could all use a jolt of joy right now. There’s an account I follow that’s pretty much all quotes that lift me up. If someone resonates with you, “gets” you with their posts and messages, keep those accounts around.
Not only are we the consumers of content, but we are also the producers. If you’re someone that posts on social media channels, think about what you are putting out there and its intent. I’m not saying walk on eggshells, but we all need to think about the why and what behind our communications. Is your post going to make someone SICK or WELL? It’s worth considering, especially when many of us are feeling fragile and insecure about the future.
Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own happiness. But with the way that the online world has become ingrained in our reality, we need to take steps to process the content we’re taking in so that it builds us up instead of tearing us down. It goes along with setting boundaries, which I discuss in this post. To review, we’re all in different stages in our lives that influence our views and what we post. Social media is a modern means of marketing, and the same advertising techniques that are used in traditional print media apply. Remember you are viewing someone’s highlight reel, not everyday life. Take a moment over the next few weeks, or the next time you tap on Facebook or Insta, to see if your news feed is making you SICK or WELL. Think about who you want to be when the chaos of COVID is over - and make sure it’s reflected in your social media diet.